Senior Columnist

Suit says Cal 'negligent' in death of player in offseason drills

The family of deceased University of California football player Ted Agu has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cal, alleging “reckless and negligent behavior” by the school's athletic trainers and coaches.

Agu, a fifth-year senior, died Feb. 7 following an offseason conditioning drill. The Alameda County (Calif.) coroner later determined Agu died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an excessive thickening of the heart muscle. However, the lawsuit alleges Cal coaches and trainers subjected Agu to a “lethal conditioning drill for a player with known sickle cell trait.”

Complications related to sickle cell trait have been the leading cause of death of Division I college football players since 2000. Athletes who carry the trait do not have sickle cell anemia. However, during periods of extreme exertion, red blood cells of those who carry the gene can "sickle," restricting oxygen to muscles and organs and posing a "grave risk," according to the National Athletic Trainer's Association consensus statement and guidelines.

Following a lawsuit by the parents of a Rice player who died in 2006, the NCAA began recommending testing players for the trait in 2010.

The suit alleges Agu “experienced exhaustion, dizziness, shortness of breath, loss of balance and other signs of extreme fatigue … clearly symptomatic of the sickling process.”

The lead attorney on the Agu action, Steve Yerrid, is the same Florida lawyer who was retained by the family of deceased Central Florida player Ereck Plancher. Plancher collapsed and died March 2008. A jury later awarded the family $10 million citing negligence by Central Florida. The award was later cappd at $200,000. The issue is still being appealed and is before the Florida Supreme Court.

The Agu suit also alleges Cal was “negligent” in hiring trainer Robert Jackson. Jackson held a similar position at Central Florida during the time of Plancher's death.

Athletes who carry the sickle cell trait can and do perform at the highest levels of sports, although NATA guidelines recommend that they be closely monitored and slowly acclimated to strenuous exertion. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has said in the past he had award winners on his team who carried the trait.

Cal released this statement: "The members of our football family and our entire campus community remain deeply saddened by the loss of Ted Agu. We recognize how difficult this must be for the Agu family. We will continue to honor Ted in all we do. He will forever be a beloved member of our Golden Bear family.

"When Cal's medical staff on scene saw Ted show signs of problems, they reacted promptly. But as the Alameda County Coroner's report states, the cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which suggests there was little anyone could have done to save him.

"While we cannot discuss any student's specific medical history, we follow all recommended protocols, including those outlined by the NCAA, for all student-athletes with identified medical conditions. We want to make clear that we are committed to ensuring the care and safety of all our student-athletes, and we have great confidence in our athletic department's staff's ability to do so."

No dollar amount is mentioned in the Agu action.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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